For the record, every time someone says, “Go ahead, go for it…trees are 90 percent air,” I always reply, “Yeah, well so are screen doors, and I’m not hitting through them, either.”
Still, it’s one of those golfisms that no one really knows if it’s true. So we decided to check it out. How? By hitting golf balls into trees. LOTS of them. The bottom line: They’re not 90 percent air.
Not. Even. Close.
We picked out six different species of trees (sugar maple, red cedar, spruce, oak, red maple and white pine) at Rock Ridge CC in Newtown, CT. This provided a variety of dense and sparse combinations of timber, leaves or needles. We picked a spot where a reasonable shot would be played that would have to go through the tree to reach the green. We lasered the yardage and then had our human robot, Joel Beall (a scratch golfer), hit 10 balls with only one mandate — the ball had to go through the tree and he was to try and hit the spot he felt was best to get it to the green. In other words, just as if he were playing golf. After the balls were struck, we lasered from the ball to the flagstick. Luckily, only one ball nearly hit us on the rebound.
After all the shots were recorded we broke out the good ol’ Excel spreadsheet and went to work. Here’s what we found. The overall average of the shots went only 41.54 percent of the distance to the flagstick. The median was almost identical at 40.81 percent. The respective averages and medians for the various trees were as follows:
Sugar Maple: 46.80% average; 51.92% median
JB comment: Far from a stomach punch with few rejections, but zero shots escaped unharmed. Like watching a fullback shed off the first tackler, slowly stiff-arm another and brought down by pursuer number three…only for a four-yard gain.
Red Cedar: 12.30%; 3.74%
JB comment: Red cedars, nature’s brick wall. You have a better chance of getting one by Rudy Gobert than sneaking a Titleist through a red cedar.
Spruce: 21.28%; 10.83%
JB comment: It was here where I started to question not only the futility of this exercise, but life in general. Watching perfectly-struck 6-irons travel 30 yards will do that to a man.
Oak: 51.72%; 75.82%
JB comment: Finally, some hope. Aside from one ball nearly taking us out off a rejection, most of these shots came to rest just off the green. What I’m trying to say is (sniff), I love the Oak, and I’d like all of you to love Oak, too
Red Maple: 36.92%; 22.65%
JB comment: Much like Taylor Swift, the maple looks innocuous, but it will crush your soul.
White Pine: 80.20%; 79.90%
JB comment: Almost no resistance, with two shots finishing within 10 feet of the flag. If you find yourself behind one of these bad boys, fire away.
As you can see, the shot through the trees is almost always a low percentage shot and almost a no percentage shot through a red cedar. The white pine and oak at least offer a reasonable opportunity. However, before you try the hero shot you should be aware that of the 60 swats taken, only two found the green. That’s an average of 3.33 percent — or about the same as you’d get trying to go through a screen door.